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Growing up with parents who do not love each other.

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at KCL chapter.

John Bowlby, the psychologist who pioneered attachment theory, was the first in his field to study the importance of a child’s relationship with their mother and how this affects their future relationships. By studying young juveniles in his clinic in London, he found that children who had not developed a secure attachment with their caregiver between the ages of 6 months and 5 years developed maladaptively. This was due to a variety of reasons, but most notably, these children being placed in foster care homes or due to a mother’s illness, which prevented the necessary bonding between mother and child that necessitated normal emotional development. He believed that their mental conditions, including depression, nervousness, schizophrenia, and ADHD, were caused by the absence of the mother-child bond. Future studies confirmed Bowlby’s theory by emphasizing the importance of a child’s emotional needs being met by their caregiver. In 1958, Harlow conducted a study on monkeys, where they were placed in a cage, separating them from their caregiver, but meeting their physical needs of water and food. One group of monkeys had a barbed wire of a mother figure covered in cloth inside their cage, which provided them with comfort and became their main point of contact as they latched onto it, and only occasionally let go to drink water or eat food.

A discussion of attachment theory is important when thinking about the impact that parents who did not get along, love each other, or fought a lot impact the pathology of their children. It is an undeniable fact that the relationship between the parents has a profound effect on how children are raised; what role the child plays in their parent’s lives; how conflict is handled; who and if the children can go to if there is an issue in their personal life. To narrow my analysis, I want to talk about the impact that parents who had arranged marriages have on their children because this is what I know about best since this was the situation of my parents who were born and raised in Pakistan in the 1960s and 1970s. Arranged marriages are very common in the Asian subcontinent whereby the parents, based on superficial metrics of compatibility such as caste, socio-economic background, religious sect, educational attainment etc, arrange the marriage between two people. Sometimes, the couple has not met in person before the wedding ceremony, but more often, at least in recent times, the couple will have the chance to get to know each other months before their marriage. In an ideal situation, the parent will present to their daughter or son, a potential rishta (match,) and then they have the choice to accept or refute it depending on their metrics of compatibility. However, for the generation that our parents came from, this was not the case. Usually, the parents would decide on behalf of their children if the match was good or not. And that was how my parents got married.

I would like to believe that my parents got married in the 1990s, but in which year, month, or date I can not say for they never shared this detail with us. There are no known pictures of their marriage, but we have seen pictures of them together in Hong Kong where they moved to maybe between 1995 to 2000 for my father’s job. Apart from this, there are no other pictures that we have of them together since the idea of them standing near one another sounds absurd. My family moved to the UK when I was just a few months old in 2002, which has now become our primary home, but we still make regular trips back home when we can. Over time, as the number of children they had increased from 2 to 7, my parent’s marriage got progressively worse. The main issue was the lack of communication: my mum didn’t want to speak to my dad because she believed it would cause unnecessary problems, which meant that we children were the middle-men in their marriage. Instead of speaking directly to one other, they would speak through us and we were forced to accept that our mum could not persuade my dad of anything since she did not want to engage with him verbally. When we pointed out my dad’s bad spending habits, abusive tactics, or religious manipulation, my mum did not want to take up the issue because she felt he was impermeable and was taught as a woman to just endure, accept and submit to her husband’s will. It put us children in an unfavourable position. We felt like we had no reliable adult who could speak and reason with my dad over his fanatical ways. This meant we had to become the adults who spoke, tried to reason with, and argued with my dad since there was no one else willing to do it. To survive in a household like this, you have to become the parent that you never had by embodying the qualities that your parents lacked. Hence, you have to quickly develop better communication skills, conflict resolution skills, and have the courage to stand up for what you believe in.

In some marriages, love is the glue that brought two people together with the promise of a happily ever after. But, over time, this love becomes cold and the marriage falls apart. In my parent’s marriage, there was never any love to begin with. In some arranged marriages, the parents will fall in love with each other, plan date nights, and celebrate their anniversaries. Both my parents were emotionally unavailable. Growing up, my mum would suppress her unhappiness in her marriage by looking after her children and finding humour in her husband’s abuse. Since my dad was abusive towards my mum, she eventually became emotionally numb to the pain and could not show up emotionally in her children’s lives. By constantly suppressing her feelings, she lost the ability to connect with her children, which made them feel emotionally neglected and distant from her. To this day, I feel disconnected from my mother. She hides her pain behind laughs and jokes, failing to acknowledge the damage that staying in her marriage has caused not only to her but also to her children.

I believe parents that do choose to stay in unhappy marriages don’t realize the damage that they are causing to their children because it is seen as the better alternative to divorce and separation. If these parents were to hear the perspective of their children, they would realize that staying under the same roof, unhappy and emotionally unavailable for one another, created a deep emotional wound within them that no amount of deception could hide.

A third-year History student who enjoys studying women and gender, I'm also deeply interested in culture and religion. When I'm not watching YouTube, I enjoy reading books, cooking, talking walks in the park, trying to keep my plants alive, getting lifestyle and outfit inspiration from Pinterest and pursing creative endeavours.